Ubisoft, Google Cloud and Psycle demonstrate the power of machine learning, lay the ground for automated hieroglyphics translation

The Hieroglyphics Initiative, a research project launched by Ubisoft and Google Cloud on the occasion of Assassin’s Creed Origins’ release in 2017, paves the way towards an open source Hieroglyphics translation tool for Academics and beyond.

Ubisoft believes Machine Learning has the power to improve research for Academics and the way Humanities are both taught and made accessible to a greater audience, thus contributing to enriching people’s lives. With Google Cloud and Psycle on board, Ubisoft gathered some of the best players in the industry to find ways to modernise the process of translating hieroglyphics using machine learning systems, a process that otherwise has remained virtually unchanged for over a century.

Today, at Google Cloud Next ’18 in London, Ubisoft, Google Cloud and Psycle presented the first results of the Hieroglyphics Initiative along with Perrine Poiron, Egyptologist and Ph. D student (Sorbonne/UQAM). The initial idea behind the Hieroglyphics Initiative brew in the minds of Ubisoft teams while working with Egyptologists during the development of Assassin’s Creed Origins, set in Ancient Egypt during the Ptolemaic Period.

Pierre Miazga, Project Director at Ubisoft commented during Google Cloud Next: “At Ubisoft, our mission, obviously, is to entertain. But more than that, our will really is to enrich peoples’ lives. That is why, more than developing a videogame, we became convinced that we had a role to play in research.”

Assassin’s Creed players massively contribute to the success of the tool

The first part of the automated translation process is generating an accurate facsimile of the hieroglyphs through the Hieroglyphics Initiative tool. It then moves on to recognizing each individual glyph thanks to machine learning systems before analyzing the whole sequence in terms of words, in order to produce a final translation.

It’s a well-known fact that training machine learning systems requires large quantities of data, so when in need to source an initial data set into the Hieroglyphics Initiative’s drawing tool, Ubisoft turned to the Assassin’s Creed community. Their response was both immediate and massive: more than 80,000 glyphs were drawn in the tool over the course of one night.

“To be honest, we didn’t know what to expect when we called out to players for help, it was a first in many ways. We surely didn’t expect such a massive and rapid response, the Hieroglyphics Initiative wouldn’t have made such rapid progress if it wasn’t for the fans’ contribution to the machine learning process”, said Pierre Miazga.

A more sophisticated version of the drawing tool is now being developed for use as a teaching aid for Ancient Egyptian grammar students. This side project within the Hieroglyphics Initiative has been welcomed by many Academic supporters of the research project.

Open source Hieroglyphics translator to become available before the end of 2018

The support of Academic contributors around the world has helped shape the Hieroglyphics Initiative. However it is only starting and now requires the contribution of the scientific community to deliver its full promise, therefore the data and tools will open source before the end of the year.

One of Hieroglyphics Initiative supporters and contributors is Macquarie University, from Sydney, Australia:
“The work of Ubisoft’s Hieroglyphics Initiative creates a unique opportunity to cross disciplinary boundaries and apply tools and technologies from digital humanities to the discipline of Egyptology. Starting with the hieroglyphs from the tombs at Beni Hassan, this project provides a framework and set of purpose-built tools to digitally capture and analyse hieroglyphic data. Working with this tool enables educators to infuse cutting-edge technology into our teaching and opens opportunities for research collaborations and partnerships”, said Dr Alex Woods, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Ancient History at Macquarie University.

Ubisoft will keep supporting the Hieroglyphics Initiative on the longer term in collaboration with Google Cloud teams as both hope for it to have a long-lasting legacy, and be the basis for more innovations in the study of Middle Egyptian.